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An ethical question involving ebooks

By / December 3, 2008



Here's an interesting debate very relevant to today's brave new world of publishing: Could it ever be right (or, at least, the best available option) to rely on a pirated electronic version of a book instead of buying the print version?

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Blogger Theodore Ts'o ("Thoughts by Ted") set off an interesting debate on his set last week, garnering more than 200 comments, some of them rather impassioned, with a post entitled "An ethical question involving ebooks."

To set this up, he described his own very specific dilemma: He'd discovered a character and author he liked and hoped to read more. But the author has stopped writing about that character (and says she will never do so again due to some nasty death threats from readers.) Meanwhile, the earlier books she had written including that character have since gone out of print.

The publisher of these books offers no electronic versions. The only way to get copies appears to be buying them used one off Amazon.com – or taking easily accessed pirate versions.

Ted, who travels a lot and worries about the environment, very much does not want to purchase a paper copy from Amazon.

So he's left wondering: Who would be hurt by his taking the pirated text? The author would collect no further royalties on any purchase he makes on Amazon. The character is dead one way or the other. The environment would be spared the wear and tear of Amazon's packaging and shipping process.

Actually he lists several options as to how he might proceed and asks his readers to weigh in – which they have done, with gusto. He also asks them to state their generation (Baby Boomer, Gen X, Gen Y, etc.)

Taking the pirated text and sending money directly to the author seems to be a favorite option for many of all generations. But if you have a moment, it's worth scrolling through the whole discussion.

It's the kind of thing we'll only be hearing (and thinking) more about in the days to come.

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